Top 10 Tips for a Vibrant Online Community

In the unprecedented wake of COVID-19, never has it been more important for brands to connect online with consumers in order to maintain relationships and remain relevant. Many companies have already committed to this by establishing an ongoing market research online community (MROC), or what we at ENGINE call an “Always On Digital Hive.” Others who have yet to do so should explore the option, so as to stay in tune with consumers who are changing and evolving rapidly in ways never expected. It has been said that we know less today about consumer behavior than we did a month or even a week ago. Well, that is not true for any company connecting with their consumers 24-7-365 online in their communities, and it is vital now to nurture that asset.

Below we share our top 10 tips for ensuring the vibrancy and ongoing success of your Always On:

1 – MODERATE MODERATE MODERATE – For an online community to be truly successful, you need to be posting new content (research or “fun”) at least weekly, if not more frequently (with Millennial communities it should be daily), along with newsletters to showcase new activities. Activities can be as easy as a quick poll or a brief discussion of the day’s news or simply replies to members’ comments and follow up probes – little things such that members know new content will be there when they log in. A good community team will create an environment that becomes part of the social media fabric of members’ lives – check their Insta, check their Twitter, check Facebook, check their Hive…which brings us to:

2 – MEME-IFY – Borrow tricks from social media to keep content flowing. Everyone loves a good #tbt or #fbf…and there’s nothing quite like participating in a viral trend. Create weekly rituals with your members – an emotional pulse check on Monday, a “show us where you are today” video/photo blog Wednesday, a “what’s on for the weekend” Friday post. Members will look forward to these recurrent occasions to share their evolving lives – never more important as today when everything changes so rapidly. And it’s a great source of longitudinal insight!

3 – ENCOURAGE MEMBER DIALOGUE – Not only is this a great way for members to build connections with each other – through follows and upvotes and likes and comments – and thus drive engagement, but it’s a great source of innovation, whitespace and unmet needs for your company. While you’re busy asking your consumers which they prefer, black or white, member-initiated discussion gives that group of people who really dig purple a place to tell you about it!

4 – VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF HIVES – Make sure you are not too survey-heavy or too discussion board-heavy. Some members only like close-ended questions, some dig video projects, still others are more shy to be on camera but love still photos. The more you vary your methodology week over week, the more you’ll hear from almost every member. And that goes for a particular research project as well – triangulate multiple activities around the insight you seek, find a few ways to ask your questions. That way, you’ll get your linear thinkers to respond in surveys, your creative thinkers in photo/video, your word-mavens in discussions, and the insight you’ll get will be richer for it.

5 – GAMIFY – Make sure your Always On Hive platform has gamification – the earning of points (that accrue to financial incentives) and badges with visible leaderboards. Members like the transparency of compensation and the competition with fellow members, and it keeps them coming back trying to earn all rewards and ascend to the ranks of the leaders.

6 – TARGET YOUR QUESTIONS – People like to feel special and *uniquely important* to your brand, because certainly they are, at some time or another. Members relish opportunities to talk about how their lives, needs and wants are particular to their “group.” Use private activities to immerse yourself in a particular demographic, life stage or segment of your customer base, and offer participants opportunities to connect in more personal ways, perhaps through virtual focus groups or video IDIs.

7 – MIND YOUR TONE – While we are all human beings and as such like to talk about ourselves (and it’s not all that different convening Hives of moms vs. oncologists vs. insurance agents vs. millennials when it comes to telling our stories), tone does matter, as does speaking the language of the audience at hand. Make sure your moderator/community partner knows how to set the tone that’s right for your audience and uses language and verbiage correctly. This is doubly true of communities in diverse geographies. Your moderator should be local to the market, so that you understand and communicate the nuances of culture and language.

8 – ACT QUICKLY – Always On Hives are called that for a reason, they are ALWAYS ON! Moderator response and incentive distribution should be as timely as possible. If people think you are not acting at the pace of community life, they will lose trust quickly. Make sure your community partner has systems in place to keep the replies and rewards in constant motion.

9 – COMMUNICATE – Your Always On Hive should be a two-way street. The #1 key to success is not financial incentives but consumers feeling heard. The more you can share back results and let consumers in on how you are taking their insights to heart and into effecting change, the more energized they will be to continue to help your brand. Post a quick thank you video from leadership, give them a sneak peek into a new product, or just occasionally write a note letting them know you’ve heard what they said. Nothing will resonate more with consumers as they actively seek out research opportunities in order to be helpful, connected and productive during this fraught, isolated time.

10 – ENGAGE THE RIGHT PARTNER TO HELP – There is an inflection point at which an online community becomes relatively self-sustaining, after trust in the community and its research goals is established, once members have been encouraged to start their own conversations (and felt listened to by the sponsoring brand) and as relationships form between members. Once you’ve reached that state, if your research needs go dormant for a while, the community won’t stagnate. But it takes a mighty effort to get to that point. It takes an expert team that knows how to build rapport, social glue, connection within the community and can monitor and encourage activity even in fallow research periods. Don’t go it alone on engagement, because this can be more time-involved than you imagine at the start. Engage a community partner to maintain engagement and make sure they have the expertise and a plan.

ENGINE Always On Digital Hives combine a best-in-class technology platform with a full-service approach to community vibrancy and engagement, all while allowing you to customize the level of support you require on research design and analysis. Whether you want your ENGINE team to service all or some of your research needs, or you want a DIY solution and to help yourself to our robust dashboards, we’ll always do the heavy lifting on engagement to ensure your membership remains vibrant, interactive and at the ready for all your insights needs. Ask us for a demo today!

Written by Jennifer Adams, SVP, Digital Hives at ENGINE Insights.